Jake Humbles

Name: Jake Humbles

Subject: Linguistics

Year: First

A-Level subjects/equivalent: History, Latin, French, Maths, Government and Politics, General Studies; Further Maths (AS-level)

What’s your background?

I went to a grammar school in Essex. My school was very good at supporting applicants to university. Some of my family had been to university, but not to Oxbridge.

Why did you apply to Cambridge?

I won’t deny that I was attracted by the prestige of Cambridge, and I don’t think there’s any shame in that; one should aim high. Honestly, though, I felt that Cambridge had the best linguistics course available. At pretty much every other university the linguistics course requires you to combine it with study of a particular language, which I didn’t really fancy doing. In particular, having ‘supervisions’ (tutorials in very small groups) is excellent.

What made you choose Peterhouse?

Having come from a smallish school with lovely old buildings, I thought I would enjoy living in a very small community of like-minded people (Peterhouse is tiny compared to some of the other colleges), surrounded by simple but elegant architecture. I was right.

What was the application process like?

Long, long, long! There were so many forms to send off, deadlines to meet, and so on. But a level head and a calendar with the deadlines on it were all I needed to see me through the process.

How was your interview?

I think I had a pretty unusual experience as I only had one interview (most people had at least two). This meant that I just had to turn up at the Porters’ Lodge, be escorted up to the room, go in and then leave again all within a very short time, which was quite daunting. In the interview itself, though, I felt calm and at ease as my interviewers took me through general questions then a few linguistic data-sets. It was over in a flash; I barely remember any of it.

How did you find settling in at Cambridge?

In general I felt fine with settling in. I’m not really into nightlife and clubbing, but I didn’t feel at all awkward for it in Freshers’ Week – no one was pressuring you to go out if you didn’t want to, and there was so much else to do. The first year accommodation at Peterhouse, whereby most of the freshers are housed together, really helped us gel quickly. I’ve found that life goes so quickly here that you just make friends straightaway and get swept along in the spirit of things.

What happens in your normal working week?

I go to four lectures a week: one per ‘paper’ (which is Cambridgese for ‘module’). This often earns me the scorn of science students, who can sometimes have that many lectures a day! However, I also have three or four supervisions, depending on the week, before each of which I have to submit an essay or a problem sheet, so roughly you put a day or two’s work, including reading, into each paper per week.

What are the most enjoyable and most challenging parts of your subject?

I think the best things about linguistics are that, the more you study it, on the one hand you observe more and more order and regularity underlying the apparently vastly different languages of the world, and, on the other, how little we actually know about anything! Grappling with abstract concepts is not always easy, but getting your head around a complicated theory is always very satisfying.

How do you manage the financial side of university?

The libraries we have access to are excellent, so I’ve not spent a single penny on buying materials that I need for my course. In my first term I just about managed to pay for living out of the student loan. My rent is pretty reasonable considering how nice my room is, and, while the food can be on the expensive side in self-service mealtimes, the formal hall (gowns, waiter service and grace in Latin!) is really cheap. To be honest, there’s so many bursaries, free things and what-not being thrown at us all the time that money just isn’t a concern.

How do you spend your free time?

There’s so much to do in Cambridge that you could easily fill your entire week just going to every university society that attracts your eye (not that I would recommend doing that!). Just this term, I’ve heard national figures speak at the Cambridge Union, represented College at bridge (very unsuccessfully…) and quizzing, performed in operetta, learnt Scottish country-dancing, and plenty more besides. One of my major extra-curricular time commitments is the chapel choir. I auditioned after arriving in Cambridge, and now sing in chapel three times a week (two services with rehearsal beforehand, and another rehearsal). It’s great fun and helped me become a much better singer – and our perks (free formal hall, singing lessons, …) make us the envy of our fellow students.